Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Suspicion (1941)

After coming to America and making the stunning Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent, Hitchcock made three movies that no ever seems too nuts about: Between 1941 and 1942, he released Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, and Saboteur. Mr. and Mrs. Smith cannot be entirely considered in light of his entire filmography simply because it was romantic comedy the studios hired Hitchcock to direct. Regardless, it's amusing, but nothing special. Saboteur as well ranks as one of the director's lesser spy thrillers. Suspicion, despite its having the star power of Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, also tends to get shoved under the radar. No one thinks it's bad, but when there are so many other Hitchcock films that are irrefutably great, this one sort of gets ignored by default.

I saw it several years ago when I was on my very first Hitchcock kick, and was admittedly bored by it. But upon recently paying it another visit, I found it to be pretty excellent, and definitely worthy of more attention than it gets. The film begins as a lark, with Cary Grant playing his typical good-humored playboy and getting the wealthy and stunning Joan Fontaine to fall in love with him. All is well until after the wedding, when Linda (Fontaine) learns that Johnnie (Grant) is actually broke. He's just bought them a massive house, and is planning to use money from Linda's father to pay for it. We also learn Johnny is a gambling addict, is in debt, that he's been fired from his job for embezzlement, and that he's an habitual liar. And when he begins to make plans for developing a large piece of land with his friend Beaky (in a nice turn by the incomparable Nigel Bruce), Linda starts to think he might have murder on his mind.

It's a film that really sneaks up on you. For a while it's a light, breezy entertainment, and then very carefully, seeds are planted so that it can blossom into a full-on psychological thriller. And it's a good one, very carefully planned out, and pretty believable, as well. The genius of it is that whether he's a killer or not, Johnnie has already been proven to be a dark character, especially by Grant's standards. Hitchcock sets him up as someone who could be capable of anything, and yet he also paints Linda as insecure, someone who overheads everything she sees.

A fair amount of the critique the film has received is related to the conclusion, which the studio made Hitchcock use. And yet, for a change, I thought it was a studio ending that actually worked, making complete logical sense, and bringing the film to an ever so satisfying close. 

This is a very intelligent movie and one of the bigger surprises in Hitchcock's cannon. With a lesser script and a different director, the film's transition from romantic comedy to thriller would have been a mess. Here it's seamless, and the result is a surprisingly believable picture, unpredictable, and a whole lot of fun. 

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